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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Celebrating Fall & Farmers with Chicken with Tomato Sauce & Black Olives

From 40 pounds of tomatoes: 1 pint dried peels, 2 pints soup, 3 liters juice, 6 quarts sauce, 3 pints salsa, 5 cups jam.
Monday, with the help of friends at Red Hog Farm, I butchered our fifteen 16-week-old Le Poulet meat chickens. Tuesday afternoon, I bagged and put all but one bird in the freezer. That one went into the evening's supper, browned in tallow rendered from the fat of the cow we bought from the Deck Family Farm, simmered in a pint of sauce made with tomatoes from Frog Meadow Farm that I canned over the weekend, onions from PD Farms, garlic from Greenthumb Garlic...and Natural Value black olives from California. Honestly, after several long days on my feet, I was too beat to make anything else...so we just had this simple stew all on its own...but it would have been great with some quinoa cooked in chicken broth and a Caesar salad.

2 tablespoons tallow or other fat suitable for high temperature sauteing (coconut oil, ghee)
1 chicken, cut up (I save chicken backs for making stock)
salt, pepper
1 large onion, saute sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 pint tomato juice
1 14-ounce can pitted black olives

Melt fat over medium-high heat in a large, heavy bottomed saute pan. Sprinkle salt and pepper over chicken pieces, then brown on each side for 3-4 minutes. Remove from pan onto a clean plate. Add more oil if necessary, then cook onions until soft (about 6-8 minutes). Add garlic and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add tomato sauce and deglaze the pan, scraping any cooked bits off the bottom. Add olives and chicken. Bring sauce to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer for 45-60 minutes.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

2010 Tuna Put-Up + Gluten Free Thai Fish Cakes

Albacore Tuna in the Ocean
For health reasons, I am increasing our family's weekly consumption of seafood. We can't afford quality, sustainably caught fish at retail prices, so I have been organizing bulk purchases with our buying club and working directly with fishermen whenever I can. This summer, we purchased 22 pounds of sockeye salmon fillets through Iliamna Fish Company's CSA and my husband caught two chinook salmon on the Willamette. He may fish for salmon again this fall. Recently, I ordered ten pounds of Marine Stewardship Certified halibut fillets from Azure Standard. I would like to stock up on other fish and seafood as well. Dungeness crab are high on my list, as are Oregon pink shrimp and Pacific sardines, but this week, it's all about tuna.

Albacore Tuna in Jars Before Processing
Last year I made my first foray into canning tuna at home. I bought three whole, flash-frozen fish (each about ten pounds) from an Astoria fisherman. The canned tuna was marvelous--even my husband, who has always insisted he does not like canned tuna, liked Chez Musser brand tuna. As so many have said, once you've canned your own, you'll never go back to the pet food sold in grocery stores. (By the way, don't feed your cat canned tuna, it has too much sodium. Offer occasional raw or cooked tuna. My cat prefers raw tuna and I only offer him what I would eat myself.) While I was determined to can my own again, I did not relish the process and mess of filleting several tuna at home. Also, while many people in our buying club were interested in stocking up on tuna, they didn't know how or didn't want to fillet their own.

Albacore Tuna in Sealed Jars
I was still unsure about what to do when I met someone who mentioned off-hand that she and her friends bought tuna pre-filleted by the fishermen who caught it. Well, Hello! Why hadn't I thought of that? Google led me to Oregon Tuna, a family owned operation that fishes off the Pacific and docks in Warrenton. Our buying club ordered 150 pounds of filleted tuna from them altogether, which I picked up at the dock on Wednesday, filling four coolers to their brims.

I appreciate tuna because it's local, abundant, and versatile. Because we're buying smaller fish than those caught for commercial canneries, I worry less about mercury contamination, but still limit our tuna consumption to no more than one serving a week. The 42 pounds I canned and froze this week will provide my family of four just that for most of the year.

Before I begin a big preservation project always have a plan for what I'm going to do. Most frequently, I follow a divide and conquer approach. I decide on several ways to preserve and figure out ways that I can keep some of what I have on hold while I process the rest. In this case, I wanted 48-50 half-pints of canned tuna, which would require about approximately 20 pounds of loins, and that I would have scraps and loin ends leftover from canning, as well as some whole loins. 

We now have
  • 50 half-pints, canned
  • ten 1-lb packs of loins for sushi, searing, or smoking, frozen
  • four 1-lb packs of loin ends for fish cakes, frozen
  • three tail pieces (about two pounds) for smoking, frozen
  • one 3-lb pack of loins for November canning class, frozen
  • one pound of scraps leftover from canning for Thai fish cakes.
Albacore Tuna in the Freezer
I adapted the Thai Fish Cake recipe from Elana Amsterdam's Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook. These were simply delicious served with a quick pickle of cucumbers made with rice wine vinegar, though I might have made a relish with cucumbers, lime juice, fish sauce, chile sauce, and sesame oil if I were serving guests. Also, I realized while we were eating that lemongrass would have made a wonderful addition to these fish cakes...probably just a tablespoon finely minced would be perfect.

1 pound fresh tuna, chopped into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup blanched almond flour
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 teaspoon minced shallot
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons coconut oil

In a large bowl, thoroughly combine all ingredients except coconut oil. Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Form mixture into 2-inch patties, they will be quite moist. Gently place each patty into the pan as you form them. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes on each side until golden brown, turning carefully (I used two spatulas to turn mine). Drain on a cooling rack.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Steak & Red Peppers with Coconut Curry & Zucchini

It's funny, I'm sensitive to raw sweet peppers and even the smell of them turns me off most of the year (when they're not in season here anyway), but as the weather cools in late summer and the local bells finally ripen, I begin to crave them cooked. One of my favorites is Chicken Paprika with Red Bell Pepper, but last night, I had a couple steaks, red peppers, and a hankering for a coconut curry. This dish incorporates coconut oil, coconut milk, ginger, garlic, turmeric, and grass-fed beef, all healing foods. Instead of rice, I fried up zucchini to sop up the delicious gravy.

4 tablespoons coconut oil
1 onion, sliced
2 red peppers, sliced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound steak, sliced into strips
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 can coconut milk
1 medium zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch thick half-moons

In a heavy-bottomed saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and peppers to pan and cook until softened. Add ginger, garlic, steak, turmeric, and curry powder. Cook for several minutes, then add fish sauce and coconut milk and deglaze pan. Bring to a boil and cook until coconut milk thickens.

In a separate pan, heat the other 2 tablespoons of coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini, making sure each piece is flat in the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Cook on each side until brown and crispy. Serve topped with curry.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Salad Niçoise(ish)

Recently, a friend was over helping me work through some of the clutter that has accumulated around the house. When lunchtime rolled around, I made us a what I call Salad Niçoise(ish): a bed of lettuce with pickled green beans, hard boiled eggs, home canned Oregon albacore tuna, a handful of cherry tomatoes, and some leftover breakfast potatoes with a simple lemony garlic dressing. She marveled that I was able to throw it together in just a couple minutes and noted how difficult it was for her to plan and put together healthy meals.

I understand that. I'm lousy at meal planning myself and I'm too busy, or too tired to cook from scratch everyday. So, I don't. Instead of plans, I go with what we have on hand and what's in season. Instead of cooking from meals scratch, I rely on leftovers and pantry items, plus a few simple fresh items, for the majority of my family's meals. What I don't rely on is recipes and opinions from various authorities about "classic" this and "authentic" that. Oh, I pay attention to methods and combinations that work, but I also know what my family likes and don't get too caught up in doing things the way some guy across an ocean or continent believes they must be done. What does he know about my four-year-old's love of mayonnaise with everything or my seven-year-old's hatred of potatoes?

Also, a while back, I finally admitted to myself that it was okay for us to eat a collection of the same things over and over again. When I was single, that's how I cooked for myself--a had a dozen or so favorite meals that I made regularly and when I had time, I experimented with new dishes, and eventually some of those joined the ranks of regulars. When my husband and I married, though, for some reason I convinced myself that we must have more variety. 'Cuz that's what married people do, right? I would pour over cookbooks, magazines, and blogs looking for new recipes, come up with elaborate meal plans, shop at three or four different markets, spend an hour or two putting dinner together, and leave piles of dishes for my poor husband afterward. (Wasn't that fun, honey?)

All that became virtually impossible once we had two young children, who preferred familiar foods and left me with little time to find new recipes, make plans, or shop. Man, I hate shopping with my kids.

So I came up with a different way of getting food for my family and of getting it on the table. Instead of weekly shopping trips and elaborate meals, I bought in bulk once a month and cooked in big batches. Buying in bulk saves me time shopping, cooking big batches saves me time in the kitchen. So, when I make sugar snap peas for dinner, I make extra for throwing into salads or for the kids to snack the next day.

While we enjoy variety and once a week or so, I prepare something new or that I haven't made in a while, for the most part I stick to favorites that use what we already have or, when I'm in the mood, come up with twists on the same ol' same old. Salads and soups are terrific for both these approaches. You can make what you usually make, but tossing in leftovers or substituting pickled green beans for olives can work, too. And you might find a new favorite.

That's how my Salad Niçoise(ish) came to be. I wanted one, bad. I knew the rules for making the classic version, but I didn't have green beans handy, I had leftover steamed sugar snap peas...and potato salad. In they went. The next time I wanted the salad, I didn't have leftover peas, but my daughter had just opened a can of garbanzo beans. In they went. Then, when making lunch for my friend, who loves pickled green beans, it occurred me that they would be terrific on the salad and a good briney substitute for olives. And so it goes. Sometimes I used canned salmon instead of tuna. We're grilling halibut tonight and tomorrow, I'll probably toss leftovers from that into my salad. The key is being open to the possibilities are right there, in the house, rather than wedding oneself to a list of ingredients in someone else's recipe. Preparing extras of basics like breakfast potatoes and hard boiled eggs makes it possible to throw together a quick meal later. Now that I don't have bread or pasta to fall back on, I make a big batch of breakfast potatoes (diced red potatoes, onions, thyme, salt, and pepper fried in tallow or ghee) a couple times a week, for breakfast, naturally, but also for tossing into salad. I also make a batch of potato salad once a week, which can also go into salad or just with a bowl of sauerkraut for a quick snack.

Personally, I prefer a lemony dressing with this salad. It offers a bright, yet not at all harsh tang, especially when combined with plenty of good quality olive oil. If you have lemons, and feel like squeezing one, go for it. But consider keeping a bottle of organic lemon juice in the fridge for those days when you don't happen to have a lemon. Lemon juice is handy stuff.

So, I'm giving you a "recipe" for Salad Niçoise(ish), but as you can see, it's more a series of suggestions than a list of ingredients and specific method. What you should get from looking at the suggested ingredients is that you want a fishy protein, some raw or steamed seasonal vegetables, something pickled to lend a bright note, and some potatoes to ground it all. In Oregon, August is the perfect time of year to enjoy this salad, while the Albacore tuna comes to us fresh from the coast and the tomatoes, green beans, and cucs come fresh from our gardens and the fields of local farms. Having it at the spur of the moment is going to take some time, but if you think ahead just a bit, cooking up extra beans, potatoes, eggs, and fish beforehand, the rest falls into place in minutes.

Salad Nicoise(ish) for Two

juice from one lemon, or about 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
a teaspoon or so of anchovy paste if you have it
small clove of garlic, finely minced (a Microplane is perfect for this)
finely chopped fresh herbs if you have them...basil, parsley, thyme
salt, pepper

salad greens
some legumes (leftover steamed green beans, snap peas, cooked fava beans, lentils...)
some plainly cooked or canned fish...tuna, salmon, halibut
a hard boiled egg or two, sliced into quarters
something pickled...green beans, olives, artichokes, mushrooms, onions
cooked potatoes...leftover breakfast potatoes, boiled potatoes, potato salad
sweet onions, thinly sliced
fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini...sliced or chop however you prefer

Combine the dressing ingredients in a small jar (half-pint canning jars work well), screw on a lid and shake vigorously to emulsify. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Compose your salad as you like, drizzle with dressing, and enjoy.

Top Five Food Preservation Books

Anyone's who's been in my home knows I'm a a bit of a bibliomane...an entire wall in our living/dining room is devoted to books (and just as many are shelved in the basement). Cookbooks and books about preserving abound, and especially this time of year, you can hardly find a flat surface that doesn't have a recently perused preserving book on it. Here are the ones you're most likely to find lying around right now:

Well Preserved by Eugenia Bone was my favorite find from last year. Many of her Italian-influenced, mostly savory preserves found a place in my pantry, including Marinated Artichokes, Roasted Red Bell Peppers, Tuna in Olive Oil (my first pressure canning project), and Smoked Chicken Breast. Bone has a no-nonsense, anyone-can-do-this and it's-gonna-be-great attitude and her book has delicious recipes for using every preserve. Be sure to visit her blog.

Fancy Pantry by Helen Witty covers an amazing variety of preserves. Her head notes are mouth-watering and completely draw me in every time. Some of her methods--like no-added-pectin preserves, are traditional, yet within the realm of USDA safe canning guidelines. I especially like that many recipes call for the by-products of other recipes. For example, Sweet Pickled Bing Cherries yields vinegar from which you can make Cherry Vinegar, while the seeds and pulp leftover from making Raspberry Jelly get a second life infusing a lightly fermented European-Style Raspberry Syrup. The book is out of print, but used copies are usually available at Amazon.

For Southern style canning, I like Putting Up, by Stephen Downdy. Sunchoke Relish (just add to cooked potatoes for amazing potato salad), Corn Liquor BBQ Sauce, and Peach Chutney are good examples of what you'll find in there.

If you are at all interested in lactofermentation, check out Sandor Katz's Wild Fermentation. He'll teach you to make mead, kraut, miso, cheese, beer, sourdough...if it's made with the encouragement of microscopic life, Sandorkraut has got it covered. He encourages a no-fear sensibility that is refreshing against the "follow USDA food preservation guidelines or die" attitude found in many conventional canning books.

Lastly, my favorite all-around preserving books, especially for beginners, is Preserving the Harvest by Carol Costenbader. Clear instructions on all preserving methods, charts for things like how long to steam or blanch vegetables before freezing, tips galore--kinda like having an experienced food preservationist at your side, reminding you to do things like get all your gear washed and ready to go the night before heading out to pick berries or buy a couple bushels of tomatoes, so you can get right to it while your produce is still at its peak.

What are your favorites?

Returning to Life, Returning to the Kitchen

Early this year, long-standing, relatively dormant health issues resurfaced with a vengeance and by spring, I found myself overwhelmed with fatigue, chronic pain, and a "brain fog" that would not lift. I took a break from teaching so that I could get a handle on what was going on and after a few months of doctor visits, a new diagnosis (Hashimoto's thyroiditis), diet and lifestyle changes, my health is improving. My energy and focus are returning, the aches and pains are diminishing. I continue to be amazed at the turnaround and how just a few relatively small changes have put me on the path back to wellness.

Hashimoto's thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system mounts an attack against the thyroid gland. (To learn more about Hashimoto's and the latest thinking on managing this common yet under-diagnosed disease, read the Healthy Skeptic's series on the thyroid.) Following a protocol developed by Dr. Datis Kharrazian under the care of a local naturopath who has studied with him, about six weeks ago, I quit consuming gluten and virtually all grains because of the strong connection between gluten intolerance and Hashimoto's and the impact that high-carbohydrate foods have on blood sugar and thyroid function. I've increased my consumption of fermented vegetables and broths, both of which have remarkable healing properties, while I've reduced my sugar intake overall and use minimal amounts of honey as my primary sweetener instead. To an extent, my classes will begin to reflect these changes. I will no longer be teaching my Baking Basics class and my canning classes will include honey-sweetened preserves as well as those made with cane sugar.

(In addition to the dietary changes I've made, I supplement with vitamin D, cod liver oil, and an omega-3 fatty acid complex daily, all of which help support and balance the immune system. I swim laps three mornings a week, see an acupuncturist once a week, and began a meditation practice, following the method developed by Eknath Easwaran for transforming the thought process through meditation on the words of great prophets and philosophers from around the world. Stress was having a tremendous impact on my health and my nascent meditation practice has already made a big difference in how I think and feel about life's up and downs. The acupuncture is doing wonders for the exceedingly stubborn plantar fasciitis that has been with me for six years.)

For some time, I've been learning about gluten- and grain-free cooking from friends who preceded me in these dietary changes (knowing in the back of my mind that someday, I too might be making the same changes). Many of you have asked about gluten-free cooking and baking classes and while most of my current offerings are already gluten-free by nature, in the future I will offer classes specifically for those making the transition to gluten- and grain-free eating. While I miss some of the foods I used to enjoy, I am excited about getting back into my kitchen and exploring new culinary possibilities and I look forward to sharing that excitement with those who also find themselves making dietary changes for themselves and their families.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Food Revolution Begins at Home

In the wake of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution show (which I have not watched on television, but have viewed clips and snips of on the web), I have been part of so many discussions with other parents about feeding kids healthy foods. My daughter turned seven recently and her little brother turned four earlier this year. Like most parents, I struggle with helping my kids make healthy food choices. My daughter has aversions to potatoes and most cooked vegetables, while my son has a sweet tooth and is currently in a phase of not eating much of anything. Overall, though, they eat a fairly balanced diet, understand some cooking basics, and have a taste for real food. Here are some of my tricks and tips.
  1. Try serving vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, green beans, and peas raw or blanched in boiling water just long enough to brighten the color (30-60 seconds) and then immediately chilled in ice water. Sulfur compounds in green vegetables can cause bitter flavors during cooking and children have an instinctive aversion to bitterness (most poisons are bitter, so this makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint). 
  2. Encourage vegetable eating with dips, especially the tasty ones you can make at home, like mayonnaise, ketchup, or yogurt. Mix cream cheese and mayo with herbs and finely chopped, blanched spinach or kale. Ranch dressing is another quick dressing kids love. Nut butter, thinned with water and seasoned with honey, salt or tamari, miso, and a touch of pepper sauce (optional, of course!) is another favorite. Jar up salsa in the summer and invite your children to help. My son loves our tomatillo salsa, which he fondly recalls helping to make last year (he ran the food processor...he's not actually canning, yet).
  3. Get kids involved with the food that they eat at home by inviting them to help you in the kitchen. Give yourself time and start with easy tasks, like retrieving items from cupboards and the fridge. My kids love cracking eggs and peeling garlic (I slightly crush the garlic first for them, to crack the peel a bit). Practice counting and fractions while measuring out ingredients. Explain both kitchen safety and how to avoid messes, to make your time together safe and fun.
  4. Talk about nutrition matter-of-factly, without judgment about good foods vs. bad. With my kids, I talk about the effects different foods have on the body, like how fats and eggs help our brains, protein-rich meat, nuts, and legumes grow and rebuild our our muscles and organs, grains give us energy, and fruits and vegetables give us vitamins and minerals that help all over our bodies and protect us from disease. Taking a cue from the Cookie Monster, we talk about "sometimes" foods, like chips, cookies, and cake, without turning them into ever-more-tempting forbidden foods.
  5. Get them involved in their food choices when they're away from home, too, and pack a meal or snack that includes their choices. 
  6. Children, and many adults, naturally avoid foods that are unfamiliar. This is instinctual--as omnivores, we have to be careful about new foods lest they prove poisonous--so you may have to work at helping your children become familiar with new foods. Some say a food might be introduced as many as 20 times before a child can enjoy it. Encourage children to try one bite of a new food each time you prepare it. Be persistent, but don't make an issue of it.  
  7. Eliminate or reduce soda, juice, and processed "milk" (soy milk, almond milk, etc.) consumption and switch to drinking water, especially with meals. The health consequences of sweetened drinks are well known, but they effect the palate, too, by making us need more sugar in a food to sense its sweetness. Save fresh-squeezed juice or homemade nut milks for special occasions. Make your own kombucha or water kefir if you need a transitional drink or try soda water with a splash of pure juice or squeeze of lemon.
  8. Grow something to eat with your child, be it a cherry tomato plant in a container on your apartment balcony or a whole "pizza garden" with plum tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers, and herbs in your back yard. Fast-growing lettuce can be very gratifying for a child--and eating it right in the garden a delight. My kids love garden peas. Growing food in a garden helps children develop a sense of competence as well as knowledge about where food really comes from. 
  9. Take children to farms--many welcome visitors and some even hold open farm days, with activities for families. Get a basketful of berries at a u-pick. Go fishing. Find out if your local Fish & Wildlife department stocks a fishing area just for kids. Locally, the ODFW hosts free fishing weekends, youth angling events, and stocks ponds for kids.  
  10. Want to beat the processed food manufacturers at their own game? Do what they do: use salt, fats, and sweeteners, but choose mineral-rich unrefined sea salt, healthy fats like coconut oil, butter, lard, and tallow from pastured animals, and minimally processed sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, or Rapadura. One of my kids favorite vegetable dishes is onions, garlic, and green beans or peas sauteed bacon fat (cook any nitrite-cured meats over medium heat to reduce the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines). By controlling the quantity and quality of these enticements and combining them with real food, you are helping your children develop a palate for healthy choices that will last a lifetime.
I respect that there is more to our children's food choices than what parents offer and that food manufacturers, fast food restaurants, media, schools, and other government institutions aren't making our job any easier, but our kids can't wait while the grownups debate about how to improve school lunches and change agriculture subsidies. They need us to act now.

This is my Real Food Wednesday post. 

    Monday, March 1, 2010

    Leftovers by Design: Chicken

    I was having one of those days. Tired and hungry at five o'clock after a very busy day during which I hadn't thought even once about dinner. There were some leftovers from the previous evening's experimental spaghetti squash "lasagna" with stinging nettle pesto, but I wasn't in the mood for that (and apparently, no one else has been, as it is still in the fridge, untouched). Lots of leftovers from a chicken I'd roasted previously, too. In the pantry, chicken broth I canned after last week's stock making class, and in the freezer, corn I froze last summer. Happened to have some hard-boiled eggs in the fridge (now that our hens are laying in earnest, I usually have a stash of hard-boiled eggs). Chicken-corn soup is a family favorite and with just a few basics on-hand, something I can put together in just 15 or 20 minutes. Making soup using meat leftover from a roast chicken and what I have on hand demonstrates my favorite technique for dealing with those too-busy-to-cook days; what I call leftovers by design.

    A couple years ago as I began cutting back on our family's meat consumption, I hit upon the idea of cooking a large amount of meat (one 3-4 pound roast, a whole chicken or turkey breast) once a week, serving just a portion immediately, and creatively using the leftovers in a number of completely different meals later on, so it would not feel like we were eating leftovers all week. I found that not only was this economical, but it helped me save time in the kitchen as well. Often it seems that the preparation of meat takes more time and hands-on effort than any other part of a meal, by getting that work out of the way once a week, I spent less time overall, without resorting to massive and exhausting "once-a-month" cooking and freezing sessions. Typically, in the summer,  I grill and use the leftovers in salads. During the rest of the year, I mostly make roasts and use the leftovers in soups. Here's what I did most recently with a whole chicken.

    Roast Chicken
    1 whole roaster (5-7 pounds)
    sea salt
    1 lemon, cut in half
    1 teaspoon salt
    ½ teaspoon pepper
    1 tablespoon butter

    The night before you plan to roast, brine the chicken. Brining makes for moist, flavorful meat. Place it in a large pot and add just enough water to cover, noting how many quarts of water you have used. Heat one more quart of water on the stove, and dissolve two tablespoons of salt and two tablespoons of sugar for every quart in the pot plus the one on the stove. Once the salt and sugar are dissolved, remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature (you can speed cooling by putting the pan in a couple inches of water in the sink). Add the salt and sugar solution to the pot with the chicken. Brine overnight.

    The next morning or after eight hours, remove the chicken from the brine, rinse it and pat it dry. Place the chicken breast-side up in a pan just large enough to hold it, then into the refrigerator, uncovered. Air dry for several hours--the longer, the drier the skin and the crisper the skin of the cooked chicken.

    Preheat the oven to 475F. Place chicken breast-side up in a roasting or baking pan. Cut off the wings tips--poultry shears are handy for this, but a sharp knife will do. Mix 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper together. Rub butter all over the skin, then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper mixture. Place lemon halves in the cavity and sprinkle salt and pepper inside the cavity as well. Place chicken into oven with legs pointing toward the back of the oven. Roast for about 1 hour, checking the temperature after 50 minutes by inserting a thermometer into the thigh, being careful not to touch any bones. Yes, fat will sputter all over your oven. Smoke may billow out of it. Have no fear. You are roasting the most amazing chicken ever. Just turn on the fan and open some windows, maybe have someone else stand by the nearest smoke alarm and fan smoke away from it with a dish towel whenever you open the oven.

    When the temperature reaches 160-165F, remove chicken from the oven. Allow to rest for 15-20 minutes before carving. After dinner, remove meat from the carcass; don't forget the delicious bits on the back. Store in fridge. Save the bones...I even save the one the kids have gnawed on...and put them in the freezer. Or, you could start some stock.

    Chicken Broth from Leftover Carcass
    1 carcass
    1 carrot
    1 stalk celery
    1 onion
    (or, having planned ahead, a couple cups of frozen vegetable trimmings, saved just for the purpose of flavoring stock...)
    1 bay leaf (optional)
    ½ teaspoon thyme (optional)
    1 tablespoon vinegar (I usually use cider vinegar)

    Place carcass and vinegar in a stock pot and add enough water to cover, about 2 quarts. Let sit for one hour, giving the vinegar time to draw minerals from the bones into the water. Bring the pot to a boil, then immediately turn heat down until a steady gentle simmer is maintained. Using a large spoon, skim the foamy impurities that rise to the top of the pot, but don't get too obsessed with this step. Cook for 5 to 8 hours, adding the vegetables, bay leaf, and thyme during the the last hour of cooking. Remove from heat, then strain the stock from the vegetable and carcasses through a couple layers of cheesecloth or a thinly woven dish towel (potato sack cloth) lining a colander. Freezes well for months, refrigerates for a week or so.

    Chicken Salad Sandwiches
    Uh...mix mayo, celery seed, salt, pepper, and chopped cooked chicken together in a bowl. Serve between two slices of bread, maybe with some arugula, watercress, or other greens if you have them on hand. Lunch in an instant.

    Chicken-Corn Soup with Dumlings
    I do this with and without the dumplings, depending on my mood and time, though really it takes only a couple minutes more of active work time.

    1-2 tablespoons ghee, butter, or olive oil
    1 onion, chopped
    1-2 stems celery, chopped
    1 clove garlic, minced
    1 teaspoon thyme
    ½ teaspoon sage
    1 teaspoon salt
    ½ teaspoon pepper
    1 quart chicken broth
    1-2 cups frozen corn
    1-2 cups cooked chicken meat, chopped
    1 egg
    ½ cup milk
    1 cup flour
    2 eggs, hard-boiled and chopped (optional, but authentic!)

    Melt ghee in a heavy-bottom soup pot over medium high heat. Saute onions and celery in butter until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, sage, salt, and pepper and saute for 1 minute, then immediately add chicken broth. Add corn and chicken. If there is not enough broth to generously cover the meat and vegetables, add some water. Whisk the egg in the milk, then mix with the flour. Bring soup to a simmer, then add spoonfuls of dumpling batter to the soup. Cook for another 5-7 minutes, stirring gently. Add chopped hard-boiled eggs just before serving.

    Wednesday, February 24, 2010

    Smells Like Spring Spirit

    We were enjoying a lovely spring tease here last week and my mind began turning to nettles. I strongly believe that our bodies, if we let them, will guide us to the foods we need for health. In the winter, I crave citrus, just when I need that extra boost of vitamin C. This time of year, as I notice the first signs of spring, my body craves green things, especially nettles, and I think it is more than a revolt against the root vegetables that have sustained us the last month or so. Call me crazy, but I think my body knows that now that the trees are beginning to bloom, a regular dose of nettles with their powerful anti-histamine properties, are just what I need to combat seasonal allergies.

    Luckily, a friend with a nettle patch invited us over to meet her baby goats (that's Annabel with sweet boy-kid Eden) and pick to our hearts' content. She suggested trying to make pesto with our nettles and last night, as I was trying to figure out what to do with a bounty of cream cheese, I stumbled upon a couple recipes for savory pesto cheesecake (one with basil and another with spinach) and on went the light bulb. We have lots of delicious roasted hazelnuts from local grower Freddy Guys, so naturally they joined the experiment.

    The pesto smelled and tasted like spring, all fresh and green, and even had hints of cucumber. While most cheesecake recipes call for whipping the cream cheese in mixer, adding one egg at a time, and then adding flavor components, in my dishwasherless kitchen, I am loathe to dirty both the food processor and the mixer bowl while prepping a weekday night dinner. So, once I had the pesto, I just added the cream cheese, eggs, and milk to the food processor and ran it until the mixture was thoroughly blended. The cake was airier than most cheesecakes I've made, which may have been due to using the food processor. No one seemed to mind and after a couple bites, Annabel, who had been a bit miffed when she learned earlier that I wasn't making sweet cheesecake, asked if she could have more for breakfast.

    Finally, while the recipe suggests using a springform pan, my secret cheesecake weapon is my nine-inch round mold from Demarle. Like everything I cook in my Demarle pans, cheesecakes unmold perfectly every time. I may host a Demarle party here this spring. If you would like to come for some yummy food and to learn more about Demarle, let me know.

    Stinging Nettle-Hazelnut Pesto Cheesecake
    1 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs
    ½ cup hazelnut meal
    ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
    ½ cup butter, melted
    3 cups fresh stinging nettles
    ¼ cup hazelnuts
    1 large clove garlic, cut in half
    ¼ teaspoon salt
    ¼ teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
    ⅓ cup hazelnut oil or olive oil
    24 ounces cream cheese
    3 eggs
    ¼ cup milk
    Garnish: crushed hazelnuts

    Preheat oven to 425ºF. Combine breadcrumbs, hazelnut meal, ¼ cup Parmesan cheese and butter; press on bottom and 1 inch up sides of an 9-inch springform pan. Bake for 15 minutes, then cool while you prepare the filling. Reduce oven to 300ºF.

    Position knife blade in food processor bowl; add nettles, ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, hazelnuts, garlic, salt, and pepper. Top with cover; process until smooth. With processor running, pour oil through the food chute in a steady stream until mixture is blended.

    Add cream cheese, eggs, and milk to food processor and process for a minute, until mixture is thoroughly blended.

    Pour mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour or until the cheesecake is almost set. Turn the oven off, and partially open the oven door. Leave cheesecake in oven for 1 hour.

    Garnish, if desired, and serve immediately or let the cheesecake cool completely on a wire rack. Cover and chill.

    Friday, February 12, 2010

    Figuring Out Fennel

    Fennel bulb intrigues me and I love it in salads and roasted, but ideas for how to combine its nutty licorice-ness in a cooked savory dish have alluded me. Two fennel bulbs and a chuck roast in my fridge inspired me to do a little searching on the web. A beef stew with fennel gremolata stood out, but I could see I would have to make a few changes to suit my cooking style and what I had on hand. Since I was going to be zesting an orange for the stew, I knew that I would have to make my son's favorite salad, a combination of arugula, fennel, and orange that we enjoy with Dungeness crab on special occasions.

    In reviewing the recipe for the stew, I knew immediately that I would not use red pepper, both because it's out of season and because I wanted to emphasize the flavor of the root vegetables. While I have canned tomatoes in my pantry, that much tomato did not go with what I had in mind either, though it seemed that a bit of my lactofermented ketchup, with its cloves and celery seeds, would complement the dish and thicken the braising liquid somewhat. If you don't make your own ketchup, use plain tomato paste. Most commercial ketchups will add too much sweetness.

    I only used four ¾-inch strips of orange zest--about half of the zest from one medium size blood orange--but that was enough to give the dish a rich orange flavor that worked well with the beef, fennel, and root vegetables. I used a vegetable peeler to remove just the orange zest, leaving behind the bitter white pith. I left the remaining strips of zest on a rack to dry. I keep the dry strips in a jar to add to dishes like this one when I don't have oranges on hand.

    As I mentioned in my post about Beouf Bourguignon, when braising in my sauteuse pan, I have to keep a close eye on things as the liquid tends to dissipate thanks to the pan's large surface area. I cooked some potatoes to go with the meal and added some cooking liquid to the braise. You could do the same, or add more broth. If you're using a Dutch oven, you probably won't have this problem. Got picky eaters who don't like cooked root vegetables? Remove all the meat from the finished dish, purée the vegetables with a immersion blender, then return the meat to the deceivingly delicious gravy.

    Braised Beef with Orange, Fennel  and Root Vegetables
    Serves 6-8

    1 teaspoon salt
    ½ teaspoon pepper
    2 tablespoons tallow
    2½ to 3 pounds chuck roast,  cut into ¾-inch chunks
    1 large onion, sliced
    1 large fennel bulb, sliced
    1 carrot, diagonally sliced
    2 medium beets, sliced 
    1 parsnip, diagonally sliced
    3-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
    1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
    2 tablespoons lactofermented ketchup or tomato paste
    1 teaspoon fennel seed
    1 teaspoon dry thyme or several sprigs fresh
    1 pint beef broth, more if needed
    4 ¾-inch wide strips strips of zest peeled from one blood orange, reserve rest of orange for salad

    Preheat oven to 400ºF. Melt tallow over medium high heat in a Dutch oven or sauteuse. Mix salt and pepper together in a small bowl, then sprinkle half of it generously over cubes of beef. Brown beef in on all sides, then remove from pan. Saute onion, fennel, carrot and parsnip in the same pan, adding some more tallow if necessary. When the vegetables are soft, add the garlic, ketchup, fennel seed, and thyme, cook for 2 minutes then add the broth and orange zest. Return meat to pan, cover, and bring to broth to a boil. Move pan to oven and cook until meat is tender, about 1½ to 2 hours. 

    Arugula, Blood Orange, and Fennel Salad
    Serves 4
    juice from 1 Meyer lemon or other small lemon
    1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
    3 tablespoons sesame seed oil
    3 tablespoons olive oil
    1 teaspoon miso (optional)
    salt and pepper
    1 small fennel bulb
    1 blood orange
    1 pound arugula

    Combine lemon juice, rice wine vinegar, oils, and miso in a jar, cover, and shake vigorously. Taste and add salt and pepper. Set dressing aside. Cut the fennel bulb in half lengthwise, through the root. Remove the core. Holding the stem end of the bulb half, thinly slice the fennel on a mandolin or with a very sharp knife. Repeat with other half. Place slices in a bowl. Section the orange, holding it over the bowl of fennel to capture the juices while you work and dropping freed orange sections in bowl. Toss the orange and fennel together--the citric acid from the orange will keep the fennel from browning. Just before serving, toss fennel, orange, and arugula with about half of the dressing, reserve the rest for another day.    

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010

    Portland Area Home Food Production Resources

    Two people ask for local gardening/food production resources last weekend...must be all the fine weather. Here are my faves. Please comment with yours!

    Books About Growing Food Here
    Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon
    Maritime Northwest Garden Guide: Planning Calendar for Year-Round Organic Gardening by Carl Elliot and Rob Peterson

    Local Organizations
    Growing Gardens
    Portland Permaculture Guild
    Home Orchard Society
    Oregon Tilth: Organic Gardening Classes
    OSU Extension, Gardening
    Trackers PDX

    Email Lists

    PDX Goats
    PDX Backyard Chickens

    Web Sites and Blogs
    Throwback at Trapper Creek

    (Nita farms and blogs out in the gorge)
    Portland Nursery has a ton of gardening brochures here . I find their vegetable calendar is especially helpful.
    Rainy Side Gardeners
    Raising Rabbits in the Pacific Northwest
    Rabbit Revolution

    Local Businesses
    Naomi's Organic Farm Supply
    Urban Farm Store
    Pistils Nursery
    Portland Nursery

    Sunday, February 7, 2010

    New Twist on Potato, Leek & Asparagus Soup

    Potato-leek soup has been with me for a long time. Most famously it was the base for an asparagus-potato-leek soup I made for President Jimmy Carter years ago, when I worked as a bookseller and he came to our store to sign a book of poetry. Back then I followed a recipe from Perla Meyer's Art of Seasonal Cooking, but nowadays I let my pantry (by which I mean, all my food storage areas: my pantry, freezer, fridge, and even my garden--I'm "storing" potatoes there now) guide me instead. I discovered a quart of spring 2009 asparagus lingering in the freezer this weekend and with the hints of spring 2010 popping up all over the place (why, Hello, Hyacinths!), I thought that would be a good addition. Annabel wanted a cheese soup, so grated cheddar went in too. (She even agreed that potatoes, as long as they were pureed, would be okay, which is a big step for a girl who has hardly let potato in any form pass her lips in three years.)

    The twist? We're out of chicken broth. And vegetable stock. There's a jar or two of beef broth in the pantry, but I've always thought that beef is too rich for this soup, which has a light spring air about it, especially with the asparagus. I have been saving up chicken backs and veggie scraps in the freezer for my upcoming Stocks, Soups, and Stews class and not made any stocks for my own use lately. What to do? A friend recently asked on Facebook what she could do with the abundant whey she had leftover from making cheese. Someone suggested soup and, fortunately, I have lots of whey too. So, into the pot that went as well. I was concerned that it would add an excessively tangy flavor, but not at all. If you have "way too much whey" on hand, here's a way to use some up...otherwise, chicken broth or vegetable stock will be just fine.

    2 tablespoons butter
    2 large leeks, white and pale green parts sliced
    2 pounds potatoes (I used German butterballs from our garden), chopped
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    2-3 cups whey (or chicken broth or vegetable stock)
    1 pound frozen asparagus
    1 generous cup grated cheddar cheese
    salt, pepper
    creme fraiche, sour cream (optional)
    bacon bits (optional)

    Melt butter in a soup pot over medium high heat. Sauté the sliced leeks in butter until soft. Add the potatoes and garlic, then add enough whey to cover everything. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until potatoes are soft enough to mash with a fork. Add the asparagus and cook for a couple minutes, long enough to barely soften the asparagus. Remove pot from heat and purée with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender or food processor. Return the puréed soup to the pot and add the cheese. When the cheese is melted, add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a dollop of cream fraiche or sour cream and a sprinkling of bacon bits.

    Friday, February 5, 2010

    When Life Hands You Liver...

    Recently, I took a package of what I thought was pork sausage out of my deep freeze and put it in the fridge to thaw. Imagine my horror when I opened the package to find pork liver when I was supposed to make pizza for dinner that night. Yuck, right? Well, I found a pound of actual sausage, thawed it in the microwave, and my son's birthday dinner was saved. This package of liver sat in the fridge a couple days while I contemplated what to do with it. No way we were going to eat frank liver, especially pork liver, which even some liver-lovers can't abide. Liverwurst seemed like a good choice, but the recipes I found online called for ingredients I didn't have on hand or didn't want to use in an experiment that could go horribly wrong. So, in my usual idiom, I improvised. According to several of the recipes I found, you're supposed to let the cooked liverwurst age for a couple days, allowing the flavors to meld. Well, I baked this yesterday afternoon and it's half gone. Guess they liked it?

    I grind most of my spices fresh--it really does make a difference. I have a dedicated pepper grinder that I use for small amounts and a coffee grinder for times when I need to grind larger amount or larger spices that won't go through the pepper grinder. Allspice is one of those. To grate nutmeg, I use my Microplane grater, one of my most used kitchen hand tools.

    Braunschweiger (Liverwurst)
    Makes one small loaf

    1 pound pork liver
    1 pork heart
    1 pound unseasoned pork sausage
    1 medium onion, chopped
    2-3 teaspoons sea salt
    1 teaspoon ground cloves, freshly ground
    ½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
    ¼ teaspoon allspice, freshly ground
    ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground

    Preheat oven to 300º F. If you are use a food processor for grinding, cut the liver and heart into cubes and freeze for 30 minutes, so that they will not turn to mush during processing.

    Sauté the onion in a little pork fat or butter until it is soft. Sprinkle with the spices to warm them. Process the onion mixture, liver, and heart until you have a smooth purée, then add the sausage until just blended. Fry a spoonful of the purée over medium heat until cooked through to taste for seasoning. Adjust if necessary, but note that flavors will be less intense after the finished paté is cooled. I felt mine tasted to salty when it was fresh out of the oven, but once cooled it did not taste overly salted.

    Pack the purée into a loaf pan and cover tightly with foil. Put the dish in a pan with an inch or two of boiling water and bake at 300º F until meat is cooked but not browned (meat thermometer should read 160-165º F), about 2 hours.

    Remove baking dish from the pan of water and let paté cool in the dish. Refrigerate 1 to 2 days before using, if you can.

    Deck Family Farm Meat Buying Club Intructions

    The beef, pork, and poultry are raised by them, the lamb and goat by other local farmers near Junction City, Oregon, just west of Eugene. All animals are raised on pasture. The Decks follow the intensive rotational grazing method on their farm to maintain and increase the fertility of their soil and use no synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, hormones or antibiotics. Their retail meat is butchered at Dayton Meats, which does not "wash" the meat in citric or lactic acid (this is done to most meat you buy at the store, even at New Seasons). I think the Decks must need to update their web site, because it says that they are "looking for a nitrate-free cure," but Christine Deck told me recently that Dayton does indeed do a nitrate-free cure.

    Buying club orders are 20% off the retail price. You can order boxes as well, but they are same price as listed on the Deck web site. If there is enough interest in the ground beef, we can get the wholesale price of $4.99/pound. (The organic ground beef comes from culled dairy cows, who have received small amounts of grain during milking. The regular ground beef is from 100% grassfed cattle.)

    Delivery is free. The Decks prefer payment by check at the time of delivery, though if you would like to pay by credit card, we can make arrangements for that. The meat will arrive frozen and there will be a two-hour pick-up window. Delivery is expected before noon. Pick up will be at my home, 13228 NE Eugene Street, a few blocks north of 132nd & Halsey.

    Place your order by Wednesday, February 10. Please follow these instructions to order:
    1. Use the ordering page on the Deck's web site to calculate your order estimate (do not actually place your order thru their site),
    2. Subtract 20% off the retail cuts you want to order (boxes and wholesale ground beef are not subject to the 20% discount),
    3. Indicate what you would like in this form.
    I also organize a food buying club, with a monthly Azure Standard drop, plus we do bulk orders of produce during the growing season, bulk meat purchases (mostly from the Decks, but some other local farms as well), and starting this year, hosting a CSA pick up site. You can join the buying club by signing up for the Yahoo group we use.

    Saturday, January 23, 2010

    Boeuf Bourguignon à Chez Musser

    I mentioned on Facebook how divine my house smelled last night while I was cooking Beouf Bourguignon and got some recipe requests. I looked online for a recipe similar to my version of the classic French beef stew, but they were all so much more complicated than necessary, so I am feeling bound to type up mine. This peasant dish, raised to haute cuisine by Antoine Carême, then brought to American home cooks 40 years ago by Julia Child is now experiencing a resurgence of interest thanks to last year's film Julie and Julia. (I can't help but wonder why the upstart's name is first in the title?)

    The recipe, as described in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, appears complicated, but really, this is home food and none of the techniques involved are beyond the scope of a home cook. Preparing the meat and sauce is simplicity. You get the onions and mushrooms ready while the meat is cooking. I do find peeling the two dozen pearl onions tedious and if I don't have them on hand or don't want to deal with them, I just saute a sliced onion along with the carrots and add them to the meat. That said, the browned whole pearl onions bring a welcome contrasting sweetness to the dish that is worth the effort, so do try it that way at least once. Sadly, no one in my family but me likes mushrooms, so I have to cordon mine in a corner of the sauteuse pan I use for braising, then scoop them into a little serving bowl for myself before putting the rest of the meat and sauce in another serving bowl.

    You may notice there is no bacon, fat back, lardons, or any other form of smokey pork fat goodness in my recipe. I'm all for it much of the time and we even go so far as to cure and smoke our own bacon, but I feel the act of soaking, which Julia recommends to remove the saltiness, just negates the whole purpose of using a cured fat. When I've just used bacon fat, I have found the dish gets too salty and the smokiness doesn't add to the dish. So, I use tallow, which is rendered beef fat. If you don't have any tallow, clarified butter or ghee would work. You can DIY, of course. Or, you can completely ignore me and go for the pork fat. C'est la vie.

    I also find flouring the meat unnecessary and knowing that so many are trying to avoid gluten and grains, I can assure you that you are missing nothing. I quit doing that ages ago, when I started using the sauteuse pan, which, because of its large surface area, readily thickens the sauce without the addition of flour. If you are using at Dutch oven and find that your sauce isn't thick enough in the end, you can always thicken with a beurre manie or potato starch if you eschew gluten (to avoid lumps, first whisk a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid with a couple teaspoons of starch, then add the mixture to the sauce).

    I served last night's beouf bourguignon with homemade crème fraîche. O. M. G. Really, just plan a day or so ahead and do it. Your taste buds, if they could, would bow down and say, "Bless you!" Sour cream, quark, or even yogurt would be fine. I believe Julia says to serve this with boiled potatoes, though it is also quite good with roasted or mashed potatoes, buttered egg noodles...oh anything to catch that sauce! And don't forget a side of halved Brussels sprouts, boiled for a few minutes, then browned in bacon fat. Nom-nom-nom, says the lady who doesn't like Brussels sprouts.

    Someone asked if using grass-fed beef made a difference in the cooking time. I simply cook this until the meat is tender, not according to any specific time. Do keep an eye on things during what you expect to be the last hour or so, especially if you use a sauteuse, rather than a Dutch oven. The sauce can go from perfectly thick to not-so-perfectly dry rather quickly if you are not paying attention. I simply add more broth or even the rinse water from the jar of tomato sauce if more liquid is needed toward the end.

    3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
    Salt and pepper
    2-4 tablespoons tallow
    1 carrot, diced
    2 cloves mashed garlic
    2 cups red wine, young and full-bodied (Pinot Noir or Burgundy is usually recommended, though I often use an inexpensive Bordeaux)
    2 to 3 cups beef stock
    1 pint tomato sauce
    leaves from 4 sprigs fresh thyme
    1 bay leaf
    18 to 24 pearl onions
    1 pound cremini mushrooms, quartered
    4 tablespoons butter, divided

    Preheat oven to 325F. Sprinkle salt and pepper all over the cubed meat. Melt tallow over medium high heat in a large saute pan or sauteuse. Add seasoned meat to the pan in a single layer, browning in batches if your pan is not large enough to accomodate all the meat at once without crowding. Remove the browned meat to a bowl. Saute the carrots in the pan for several minutes, until they are browned. Add the garlic and saute for 60 seconds. Put the browned carrots and garlic with the meat, return the pan to the heat and immediately add the wine. Using a flat wooden spatula, deglaze the pan, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the stock, tomato sauce, thyme leaves, bay leaf, meat, and carrots to the pan. Bring to a simmer on the stove. Cover the pan and cook in the oven for 3 to 4 hours, or until you can easily pull the meat apart with a fork. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook for another 2o minutes. If you feel the sauce is not thick enough, remove the meat and vegetables from the sauce. Put the cooking pan on a medium-high burner, then thicken with a potato starch or beurre manie (typically, one uses flour to thicken at the start of cooking and a root starch for thickening at the end of cooking, but in a pinch, the flour-butter mix works). Return meat and vegetables to the pan and gently stir, coating everything in sauce.

    In the meantime, prepare the onions and mushrooms. To peel the onions, boil them for 1 minute, then drain. Cut off the ends, the slip off the skins. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a saute pan over medium high heat. Brown the onions in the pan for 10 minutes, remove and set aside. Return saute pan back to burner. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and saute the mushrooms for about 8-10 minutes. If you, like me, must keep the mushrooms out of the finished dish, as they begin to brown sprinkle salt on the mushrooms and add a splash of red wine to the saute pan and cook for 1 more minute. Feel free to add some more butter, too. You deserve it. Set the mushrooms aside with the onions.

    When the meat is tender, gently stir in the onions and mushrooms, then serve. Bon Appétit!

    Monday, January 18, 2010

    Taking Stock, Making Stock

    Happy New Year! After months of preserving followed by weeks of holiday baking, travel, and celebrations, I am relieved to spend some time in January quietly taking stock of the previous year and making plans for the new. I've been thinking in particular of the new food-related skills I acquired in 2009 and the people who helped me learn something new, either in person or through their books and blogs. Here is my list of Kitchen-Inspiration Books, Blogs, and People of 2009.

    • Helen Witty and her book Fancy Pantry taught me to make gravlax for our New Year's Day open house and inspired me all year, from spring's Ginger-Rhubarb Chutney and summer's Countrystyle Chile Sauce to Cranberry Cordial in the fall and now, Candied Kumquats!
    • Joining The Nourished Kitchen's Pantry Challenge in December 2008 pushed me to keep better records of how much I spend on food, showing me how much I save by cooking only with what I have on hand and giving focus to my 2009 food preservation efforts.
    • Michael Ruhlman. Oh, let me count the ways he has inspired me. My husband and I learned to cure bacon and ham from his Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing. I keep Ratio: The Simple Codes behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking on the top of my cookbook stack as it provides a springboard for experiments in everything from muffins to pickles. His blog fires me up. He is as passionate as I am about empowering everyday people in their kitchens, though he's far more articulate and has his wife Donna taking extraordinary, mouth-watering food photos!
    • Two other writers that really get my gears turning, Hank Shaw at Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook and Langdon Cook at Fat of the Land. Thanks to them, I've become more confident cooking with wild foods this year.
    • Tips from Diane Morgan's Online Cooking School and Deb Perelman's Smitten Kitchen (plus what I already knew and practiced from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking) helped me make even better pastry with less effort.
    • Eugenia Bone's Well-Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods taught me to pressure can tuna without fear and we here at Chez Musser love the results.
    • I can't count how many times I've wanted a simple recipe for something, gone to Simply Recipes, and found just what I needed. Recently, I began to think Elise must be psychic, such as when I went looking for a good roasted Brussels sprouts recipe to find she posted about Roasted Brussels Sprouts the very same day.
    • I have to admit, fusion food is not normally my thing and I even feel a little intimidated when I visit White on Rice Couple. This couple—meat-and-potatoes Oregon rancher boy meets bold and fiery Vietnamese girl—have such a bright, beautiful, SoCal thing going on. I can't help but feel my frumpy, sodden PNW self does not belong there, but they make me feel welcome despite my sensible shoes and I've been learning so much about flavor from them. I especially ♥ their Tomato with Ginger "Ah...you so Asian!" Jam and Ultimate Umami Burgers.
    • My friends Sierra and Teri at Grain-Free Foodies have shown me delicious ways to cook and bake without wheat and other grains. They make "going without" look and taste so good!
    • And finally, my friend Melisa of Magpie Eats, who taught me cook my new favorite comfort dish, uppma with cranberry chutney. In listening to her rhapsodize about her favorite foods, I've gained a greater appreciation of bold seasonings and unexpected flavor combinations. Oh, and her sweet tomato chutney? I drool a bit just thinking about it.

    In December, Melisa gave me a copy of Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking and in reading it I became aware of how much great food writing I have missed out on with my focus on cooking technique. This year, I want to read more Colwin, plus some of the other grand dames of food lit: Elizabeth David, MFK Fisher, Judith Jones, and Ruth Reichl. I'm looking forward to exploring the more sentimental side of cooking. I also want to continue explore grain-free cooking, dive more deeply into Indian cookery, and keep dipping my toes into those fusion food waters.

    What about you? What did you learn about food and cooking in 2009? Who inspired you? What do you want to learn in 2010?

    My Winter 2010 Schedule is up. Highlights include Winter Canning this Saturday; Chocolate Loves Fruit January 30; Stocks, Soups, and Stews February 19; and One Chicken, Many Meals February 20. If my schedule doesn't fit yours, contact me to arrange for a private lesson or a class at your home, office, school, etc. I can customize classes to meet your needs and location.